What's more motivating than a crappy job?
Updated: Aug 23
My worst job was the only summer job I could get after my first year of university. I waited too long to start looking, and the options were not great back then. What was this job you ask? Well, it was delivering ice around Saskatchewan, mostly to lake communities. Doesn't sound so bad...<<insert evil laugh here>>
The mode of transport was a 5-ton cube truck, 4-speed standard. It had a clutch a mile from the floor and a steering wheel built for giants.
Because of the neighborhood the vehicle was parked at nightly, there was no radio or cd player (stolen), windows had to be rolled down every night or they would get broken, and the battery had to be disconnected (it sat behind the cab in the open) or it would get stolen.
The little triangular, foldy window on the passenger side was broken, and the owner had no intention of replacing it.
And it burned oil like nothing I've ever seen. Oil reserves always needed to be on hand during a shift as it constantly needed filling.
Now, remember I said "ice". Yeah, this truck had no reefer, no cooling unit; all it had was insulation, and this in the middle of a hot Saskatchewan summer (they can get plus thirty degrees Celsius and it's a dry hot).
My first big trip, everything was good, the truck's three gas tanks were full, and I'm on my way out to the highway.
You’ve probably seen those weight scale signs before. Yeah, so even though the picture on the sign looked like my truck (seriously, almost identical), and the weigh scale lights were a flashing, I kept going, thinking my truck's not big enough. Wrong. I was pulled over, had to come back to the weigh scale, and they noticed my brake lights were dimmer than my taillights. They wouldn't let me continue on. I had to go back to the shop, where the owner looked at the truck (some wires were crossed). He fixed it, and I went back out, stopped at the weigh scale, they inspected it and all good. I'm off, finally.
I made multiple stops (a milk run really), driving paved and gravel roads, eventually getting to my furthest point, Meadow Lake.
Along the way, the top panel on the back door flopped off the track because of the truck's incredible suspension and the awesome smooth roads. The sun started beating down inside the back. By the time I got to Meadow Lake for my last few stops, the ice had started becoming its former self. I got a couple complaints about the melted ice, but there was nothing I could do. Either they took it or not - they took it, and on my last stop they helped me get the door panel back on the track. I was always given extra ice to try and sell so I still had ice left in the back of the truck.
So, groovy, I can go home now. I grab some KFC and a plastic one liter container of chocolate milk, and I'm on my way. It's getting dark at this point and cold air is whipping into the cab from the broken passenger triangular foldy window; I'm cold and the truck's heater doesn't pump out much more than a whiffle of warm-ish air. But, I'm happy to be getting home so I don't care; it's been a long day.
I'm getting close to a city, North Battleford, but I can see tank 2 is almost empty. No problem; there are three tanks on the truck, and I've used up two so far; the third is full of gas, plenty to get me back home to Saskatoon.
I stop the truck and flip a valve that opens up gas for the third tank, get back in, and then flip the switch on the dash to change from tank 2 to tank 3. It doesn't switch, and the engine sputters and dies. I get back out, flip the valve, get in, switch it back to tank 2 on the dash, and it started back up.
I drove, hoping I could make it to the nearest gas station. And, boom, there it was: North Battleford. I was just on the outskirts of the city. Hope didn’t last long. Within grasp of salvation, the engine sputtered and died. My heart sank, my body tensed, and I coasted as far as it would go, until I had to pull over on the shoulder.
I tried tank 3 again, switching the valve, but it would not start. I then looked for something in the cab that I could siphon with, as my only other option was flagging someone down on the highway (this was many years ago, and I had no cell phone).
I actually found a garden hose that had been cut at a nice length, perfect for siphoning - probably because this happened before, and the owner neglected to warn me. The only problem was the hose was not long enough to reach from the full tank 3 to the empty tank 2 (the closest tank to 3). Luckily, I had my one liter chocolate milk container, well empty at this point. And then—I shit you not—I proceeded to siphon gas from tank 3, into the chocolate milk container, poured it into tank 2, and then did it again and again, until I thought I had enough to make it into the city. I somehow managed not to ingest any gasoline - I was doing quick sucking bursts, only getting the remnants from the end of the hose.
I got the truck started, got into North Battleford, hit the first gas station I saw, and filled up both tank 1 and tank 2.
As I made my way to Saskatoon, bugs splattered the windshield like a Jackson Pollock painting, and I ran out of wiper fluid. I got a few droplets of rain too so that kind of helped, but it was getting harder to see out of the windshield. I finally got back to the shop, but the reefer-less truck still had ice in the back, and I had to unload it into the shop's freezer. I did that, ultra-alert because of the neighborhood, locked up my money box I had with me, into a safe, pulled out the battery, rolled down the windows, and drove home in my car. All in all, from the time I started work until I was done at the shop, it was a 21-hour day.
I didn't quit, believe it or not -- I needed the money for school, even though I was only making six dollars an hour, and the owner would not pay overtime (totally illegal, but he was a dick).
On my next trip back to Meadow Lake, I hit a rainstorm with gusting winds. Because of the broken triangular window, rain hammered me from the passenger side. I had to pull over, and all I could find to block it was some cardboard. Water still came in, but at least I wasn't getting drenched
On another trip, south from where I had gone before, at a different lake, and on my last delivery (seems to be a pattern), this happened: I went to start the truck, and it wouldn’t... the starter whined but no go. I had a tow rope so I flagged down a car to try and get someone to help me pull start the truck. A car full of a bunch of rowdies, maybe in their mid-twenties, happily obliged my request -- we hooked up, and they started pulling - I had it in second gear, popped the clutch, and it started up no problem. The horn—surprise, surprise—did not work so I yelled at the car pulling me and waved my arms that I was all good, but they couldn’t hear me. They finally looked back and saw me, stopped, I thanked them, we unhooked, and I was off for home.
Maybe fifteen minutes outside of Saskatoon, the low oil pressure light blinked on. I needed to feed the beast, but I didn’t want to stop the engine, because I didn’t know if I could get it going again, you know, because of the crappy starter. I pulled over, left it running, grabbed the oil jug, opened the hood, opened the oil cap (it didn’t spray up thankfully), poured a bunch in, and dropped the hood. And guess what (again, I shit you not)? The engine died. It wouldn’t start back up.
With no cell phone, and the evening a comin' right soon, I just wanted to get home. So, fuck it, a push start it was - I was on the side of the road, on a path entrance to a farmer's field, on a bit of a decline that led into the ditch (not where I wanted to end up). I had very little room to get it rolling and running, or I would end up in the ditch.
I left the key on start, put it in neutral, emergency brake off, left the driver's door open, and made my way to the back and started heaving. It took everything I had but after some good rocking action, it started to move. I raced to the front, jumped in, threw it in second gear, popped the clutch, heard the engine give it a go, but it didn't start. I hit the brakes before I rolled into the ditch.
I was left with flagging someone down - it didn't take too long, and I lucked out and got someone with a cell phone. I called my boss (the owner), who I found out later knew the starter was going, even had one to replace it, but hadn't gotten around to it yet -- he came out, we hooked up the tow line, and we pull started it. I got back no problem after that.
It was soon after this that he actually sold his business, and I was out of work. Had he not sold it, I would have stayed the summer. I needed every dime I could get, even if it was only $6 an hour.
I gotta tell you, a shitty job like that is a major motivator to do something with your life. And it just happened to take me down the IT road: it motivated me to stick with university even though every person I got to know in my first year as a computer science major, dropped out… every single one.
So, here I am, more than 20 years later, and I'm giving it a go, trying to become an author, because I'll regret it if I don't (still working the day job though). And that's my motivator now, not wanting to die with regret (and I don't plan on dying for a long time), and wanting a life I look forward to, that I'm excited about. I just have to do it, because—and I don't work at this place anymore—when a user comes to your desk and says the computer is not working in the board room, and you go to help, I'd rather drive the ice truck again than try to fix an issue with an 8 year old laptop in a room full of people staring at you to hurry up.